In the 2017 NFL Draft, 253 young men were drafted and a handful of undrafted prospects were signed to contracts in the hopes that one day they will make an impact for their team. First round picks have greater expectations set upon them as well as a shorter leash, as most are expected to be difference makers from the first day of training camp.
Every year we do see first round picks who come in and instantly make their teams a whole lot better, for instance Ezekiel Elliot led the league in rushing with over 1600 yards in his first season. Other picks such as Laquon Treadwell, who only caught one pass in 9 games, need a little more seasoning before they’re ready to play in the league.
Some first-round picks will shine and become household names by the end of their rookie campaign. Others may not touch the field for their first 16 games and be forgotten about by casual fans this time next year. With that in mind, here are a few first round prospects that are projected to fall into the earlier category and make instant contributions for the teams that drafted them.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars dived into free agency in 2016 and gave former New York Jets running back Chris Ivory a 32-million-dollar contract in the hopes that he would ignite a stagnant rushing attack.
Ivory played in only 11 total games last year and even in those 11 games he was not that good, going over the 100-yard mark only once. The Jacksonville Jaguars were terrible rushing the ball last season, ranking in the bottom half of the league in total team rushing as well as touchdowns with only 8.
Insert Leonard Fournette, one of the most talked about college running backs in the last decade. Fournette is 6’1 235 pounds and runs like a gazelle in space but when a defender does run up to tackle him, be somewhere else. Fournette combined his speed and power as well as athleticism into a dangerous mix that set college football on fire and projects to do the same to the NFL.
Fournette has 40 career rushing touchdowns and averaged a healthy 6.1 yards per carry while in college as he dominated the highly-coveted SEC defenses. If any part of Fournette’s production can transfer over to the pro game we could be looking at a much improved Jaguar offense in 2017.
John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals sorely missed Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones Jr running routes next to A.J Green.
Replacing Sanu and Jones with Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd produced the exact type of results you would expect as both ranked outside the top 40 at the wide receiver position in 2016, according to ProFootballFocus.
This time around A.J. Green will have a suitable counterpart running on the opposite side of the field in, former University of Washington, wide receiver John Ross.
John Ross became the most talked about prospect at the NFL Combine when he broke Chris Johnson’s 40 yard dash time with a blazing 4.22 time of his own.
With that record breaking time draft analyst began categorizing Ross as just a speedster, but he is so much more. Ross is fast but he also has the ability to get past defenders at the line of scrimmage with ease, then using his speed to leave defenders in the dust.
His 17 receiving touchdowns in his final year of college are evidence of his abilities and will be a major upgrade for Andy Dalton and this Bengal offense.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
The Houston Texans have one of the top defenses in the NFL, headlined by J.J. Watt, and an up and coming receiving corps led by Deandre Hopkins and Will Fuller.
There has been one thing holding back the Texans from contending for a Super Bowl and that is ineptitude at the quarterback position.
Ineptitude might not explain just how bad the quarterback position has been for the Texans; in 2016 the Texans averaged only 199 passing yards per game and 15 passing touchdowns total on the season.
To put that in perspective, three running backs (Ezekiel Elliot, David Johnson, and LeGarrette Blount) all accounted for 15 or more total touchdowns on the season with their respective teams.
However, things are looking up as the Texans may have found the answer to all their quarterback dilemmas in, former Clemson Tiger star, Deshaun Watson. Watson is far from a complete prospect but he may be the most game ready quarterback of all the 2017 QB class.
Watson was the most impressive college quarterback over his last five games and capped it off with a national championship win over the best defense in college, The Alabama Crimson Tide.
Over his last 5 games, Watson completed 69% of his passes, 14 passing touchdowns and an adjusted quarterback rating of 93. With a solid team already in place around him, Watson and the Texans could be looking at a long term partnership and stability in H-Town.